In this Feb. 12, 2019, file photo, a plastic shopping bag sits stuck in a thorny bush by the side of Route 1 in Ellsworth. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection won’t enforce a statewide ban on single-use, plastic carry-out bags and polystyrene foam takeout containers until next July — and that’s drawing fire from environmentalists.

The bans were supposed to start in January, but the environmental department said the pandemic has boosted demand for single-use bags and Styrofoam boxes, and supply-chain problems are making it harder to find alternatives.

Brian Beneski, who supervises recycling programs for the department, said compliance concerns have been raised by supermarkets, restaurants, retailers and more.

“And the schools, who are sending more food home. So it’s one of these things: it’s just COVID-19 kind of impacting every aspect, so that rather than take a piecemeal approach it seemed the best approach would be to say, ‘July 1, this is when we’re giving everybody a chance to get their ducks in a row,’ so to speak,” he said.

Beneski said the department wants to avoid making it more difficult for businesses to deploy their hygiene protocols. But the state’s largest environmental group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, is pushing back on the enforcement delay.

“If particular stores really were having supply-chain issues and they provided documentation to DEP, that’s perfectly reasonable for DEP not to enforce the ban,” said Sarah Nichols, who directs the group’s sustainability programs. “But just to provide a blanket waiver for everybody until July 1 doesn’t really make any sense.”

Nichols said the new state law superseded local bans on single-use plastic bags in two dozen Maine municipalities, many around Greater Portland. So even those local decisions will effectively be moot until the state decides to start enforcing the statewide rules.

The department and council agree, though, that postponing the bans means more plastics ending up in landfills and incinerators.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.